A bold statement from the Foreign Press Association harshly condemning Hamas for abusing journalists in Gaza has fallen flat in some quarters of the press corps.
New York Times Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren not only questioned the statement’s validity but also claimed it could be “dangerous” to the credibility of some of the reporting in the region.
In a tweet to reporter Josh Mitnick, Rudoren claimed, “Every reporter I’ve met who was in Gaza during war says this Israeli/now FPA narrative of Hamas harassment is nonsense.”
According to Haaretz reporter Matthew Kalman, Rudoren called it dangerous in an e-mail exchange with the FPA following the tweet. She elaborated to Haaretz on why it was dangerous:
I found the wording of the statement overly broad, and, especially given the narrative playing out in some social media circles regarding foreign correspondents being taken in by the Hamas narrative and not reporting on the war fully or fairly, I was concerned that it undermined what I consider to have been brave and excellent work by very talented people,” she said.
So according to Rudoren’s tweet, it’s simply the “Israeli narrative” that reporters were being harassed by Hamas. And the FPA had adopted the Israeli position.
For Rudoren, what’s really dangerous about the FPA statement is that it proves Israel was right. And that, apparently, makes it “nonsense.”
However, the Haaretz article also made clear that reporters who covered Gaza during the war were themselves divided over the issue of Hamas intimidation:
Reporters who spoke to Haaretz on condition of anonymity insist that they did not experience or hear of the kind of Hamas actions described in the FPA statement. Anecdotal evidence suggests they may well be in the majority.
But other reporters did experience threats and intimidation from Hamas – enough to convince the FPA that they were not isolated incidents.
Alan Johnson, a research fellow at BICOM, compiled a long list of these incidents. Any of these cases could have a chilling effect on other reporters covering the war. And how many more took place that weren’t documented?
And since Gaza has no provisions for free speech, any reporter who ventures into the area must take personal safety into consideration whenever he or she writes anything that goes against the Hamas propaganda line.
Even if no direct threat is made, Hamas still maintains enough control of the area to bring any reporting originating there into question, whether Rudoren wants to believe it or not.
Reporter Michael J. Totten, who experienced a similar situation with Hezbollah in Lebanon, said reporting from areas like Gaza, where a form of censorship exists, constitutes a form of journalistic malpractice.
I understand why these reporters didn’t write about this while they were in Gaza. They could have been kidnapped or killed. Perhaps their editors back home kept quiet for the same reason, to protect their employees and freelancers.
There is a solution to this conundrum, however. Don’t send reporters to places where they are intimidated into lying by omission or commission.
And that brings us back the question of what’s really dangerous when it comes to the FPA’s statement. It’s not that people will come to question the reporting that’s coming out of Gaza, as Rudoren suggests.
What’s really dangerous is that prominent members of the media, most notably Rudoren herself, are more concerned with “the narrative playing out in some social media circles” than with the integrity shown by the FPA.
What’s really nonsense – the fact that Hamas intimidates journalists or Rudoren’s dismissal of the claim?
Image: CC BY-NC-SA HonestReporting, flickr/Shawn Rossi, flickr/Kim Klassen, flickr/ShellyS